Posted by Vj Agarwal
January 28, 2018

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India just celebrated her 69th Republic Day with great show of strength with leaders from ten ASEAN countries. India’s military might, rising economy and global standing were clearly visible more than ever before. Modi’s opening remarks at the World Economic Forum were upbeat when he said, “in India, Democracy, Demography and Dynamism together are shaping the country’s destiny and leading it towards the path of Development.”

With Vidya Gyan’s continued focus on children education, particularly girls, we reflect on how India has reformed, performed and transformed education since its first Republic Day in 1950. The numbers below may be characterized progress but a more important question we must ask-do the numbers tell the ground reality with respect to “learning?” First the numbers:

1950-51                                             now

Population                                                       ~360 M                                              1.3 B

Primary Schools                                             209700                                               847118

Middle School (6-8)                                       13600                                                 425094

Secondary Schools (9-12)                             7400                                                   109318

No. of children in school                              ~19.2 M (~5.4 M girls)                   > 254 M (~123 M girls)

Overall Literacy                                              ~16.7%                                               ~74.4%

Women Literacy                                             ~7.3%                                                 ~65.5%

Dropout Rates:

Before 5th grade                                             ~83.8%                                               ~4.3%

Before 8th grade                                             ~72%                                                  ~3.8%

Before 12th grade                                           ~73.3%                                               ~17.9% (10th) and ~1.5% (12th)

Teacher to Student Ratio: India’s number of schools and teachers have surged but the overall teacher to student ratio in many schools at higher grades remains a significant challenge. Interesting to note is that the number of teachers in 1950-51 were merely about 0.75 million which has increased to over 8.5 million. However, reportedly, as many as 100,000 schools had only one teacher. I have personally visited schools with just one teacher and others facing teacher shortage due to perennial teacher absenteeism.

Up to 5th grade                                               1:35                                                    1:24

Up to 8th grade                                               1:36                                                    1:17

Up to 12th grade                                             1:12                                                    1:27 (10th) and 1.38 (12th)

Ground Reality: To assess the quality of learning, we turn to ASER 2017 report released this month. Historically, ASER has focused on primary education but in 2017, it collected data on youth (14-18-year-old), which is labelled as “Beyond Basics.” This report reveals many “shocking” facts about the abilities of India’s youth in basic reading, mathematics, financial literacy, and general knowledge which takes us back to foundational learning, or lack thereof, in the primary schools. Just a few shocking facts:

  1. About 25% of this age group still could not read basic text fluently in their own language.
  2. More than half struggled with division (3 digit by 1 digit) problems. Only 43% could do such problems correctly.
  3. 53% of all 14-year-olds in the sample could read English sentences.

Among common calculations that people are often expected to do, the outcome of this age group:

  1. 86% of youth could calculate the length of an object when placed at the ‘0’ mark on the ruler. But when the object was placed elsewhere on the ruler, only 40% could give the right answer.
  2. Less than 40% of all sampled youth could calculate how many hours a girl slept between 9.30 pm and 6:30 am which were shown on a digital clock.

Turning to commonplace financial calculations, ASER 2017 found:

  1. Less than two thirds of youth (64%) could manage a budget of Rs. 50 using a rate list for snacks and deciding items to buy so that fifty rupees is completely spent.
  2. In another task of price comparison, only 64% could correctly decide which of the two shops were offering a set of five books at a better price.
  3. Only 38% could correctly compute a 10% discount and how much to pay after the discount.

When a map of India was shown to this age group, the findings were a bit encouraging:

  1. 86% were able to recognize India’s map but only 64% could name the capital of the country.
  2. 79% correctly answered the state they live in but only 42% could point the state on the map.

With respect to the use of digital technology, not surprisingly,

  1. 73% of the young people had used a mobile phone but a significant gender difference was apparent because 22% females and 12% of males had never used a mobile.
  2. 59% had never used a computer and 64% had never used internet. Not too surprisingly, girls and young women had far lower access to computer and internet as compared to boys- 49% of males and about 76% of females have never used the internet.

Concluding Thoughts: India’s dynamism in education may be apparent in the numbers but a lot remains to be desired for the “learning” among our youth to meaningfully claim much touted demographic dividend in global forums. The most visible issues for the youth in ASER 2017 include the continued gender gap; lack of role models, widening gap between knowledge and skills, and limited opportunities India’s youth need to help themselves, their families, and their communities move forward.

Is India’s Education Budget adequate? While, more is always desirable, India’s budget has grown from barely 0.64% of its GDP on education in 1950-51 to over 3.7% of GDP now. In my informed view, a more critical step is holding all stakeholders “ACCOUNTABLE” for what they are expected to do. The stakeholders include the policy makers, political leadership, educators and union leaders, and learners and their parents

India’s future democracy, dynamism, and demography dividends may be threatened if her youth, irrespective of their gender, caste, and economic stature, are not adequately educated and functionally literate (including the use of technology) to survive and thrive in the increasing global competitiveness.

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